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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Mapping the vote: Red v. Blue in Spokane County

This is a map of the difference in vote totals for the two parties' candidates in the 2016 presidential primary in Spokane County. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)
This is a map of the difference in vote totals for the two parties' candidates in the 2016 presidential primary in Spokane County. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)

Because voters in Washington don’t register by party, one of the uncertainties for any candidate for partisan office is the split between Democrats and Republicans in a particular county, district or precinct.

The state has never required party affiliation to be listed, so this has always been what policy wonks call “a known unknown.”

The parties have developed ever-more sophisticated programs to infer from election data where their relative strengths and weaknesses are. But last month’s presidential primary provides some of the hardest data ever.

In a sense it’s an ideal study, because each party had a primary that was more or less meaningless, so only those truly interested would bother to vote. With just the presidential race, there was no “ticket splitting.” Because people had to be willing to state their party affiliation, it would “weed out” independents or those who may be generally supportive but not willing to say so publicly.

It might also minimize that great bugaboo of open primaries of which the parties complain but can never prove, the “crossover” voter thinking to make mischief by marking a ballot for the other party’s weakest candidate. To do so would expose Mr. or Ms. Crossover to the prospect of entreaties for cash from the enemy party for at least the next four years. (And possibly for eternity because party lists never die, they just get copied, pasted and forwarded.)

It didn’t cost them a dime, because Washington state picked up the $11.5 million tab.

There are still a couple hundred ballots being processed in Spokane County, and a few thousand statewide, but the results are close enough to final to show where the strong Democrat and Republican support is. One can compare the total of ballots cast for Republicans Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Ben Carson with all those cast for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, subtract one total from the other, and the difference will give you a graphic depiction of the two parties’ relative strength.

That’s what we did on the computer mapping software, and the results for the county and the state can be examined by clicking on the document files above. In Spokane County, it will surprise no one with any familiarity with politics, the City of Spokane at its core, as well as most precincts from 29th Avenue on the South Hill to Francis on the north side, had more Democrats than Republicans, and some of the darkest blue precincts include Browne’s Addition, Manito Park, Logan, East Central and West Central.

Similarly, no jaws will remain agape at the revelation that much of the rest of Spokane County, including the City of Spokane Valley with a few exceptions, and the suburban and rural areas are Republican.

A similar process of mapping all 39 Washington counties’ results also shows the expected East vs. West, Republican vs. Democrat split. But when the difference between the total votes cast for each party is calculated, it presents some pretty daunting facts to counter likely GOP nominee Donald Trump’s prediction that he can turn Washington red in the presidential race for the first time since 1984. 

Not only did Democrats outvote Republicans by more than 176,000 votes in King County, but the rest of Pugetopolis from Thurston to Snohomish counties had Democratic vote margins of at least five digits. State GOP Chairman Susan Hutchison’s suggestion that Snohomish County is the key to a statewide Republican victory is undercut by the math that shows almost 25,000 more Democratic votes in that county.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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